Searching for an SEM partner

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As marketers are becoming increasingly interested in search-and recognizing it to be a complex, dynamic, data-intensive process that is never "finished"-many are scrambling to put a search solution in place.

Some marketers outsource the whole search process, either because they recognize the need for a specialized skill set or because search just seems too daunting.

Other marketers have chosen to go it alone. While managing a few keyword buys on a couple of search properties is doable in-house, managing dozens or even hundreds of brands-each with scores of keywords-is orders of magnitude more complex and simply not practical without the right tools and expertise.

Some marketers have asked their interactive agencies to handle the task for them, and then been surprised to find the agency admitting search wasn't one of its core competencies.

Finally, some marketers have opted for a hybrid approach-retaining in-house responsibility for strategy and creative while outsourcing the cumbersome implementation and analytics.

Before you begin reviewing potential partners ask yourself:

What kind of company are we? Do we really want to handle something this intricate and changeable ourselves?

Is search marketing destined to be one of our core competencies?

Where does responsibility for search lie within our organization-and how might its importance change a year or two down the road?

Can we afford to dedicate a team to this?

Can we afford not to have this knowledge in-house?

Once you've evaluated your own situation, now it's time to look out into the marketplace. As part of your due diligence on potential search partners, ask the following:

What is their methodology for beginning, implementing, maintaining and evaluating a search marketing campaign?

How do they develop a search marketing strategy? How do they arrive at their customer and market information (e.g., audience insights, category keywords, bid levels)?

Which of their processes are automated and which are carried out manually? Do they have a system for managing keywords and bids, or are they doing it by hand?

Do they provide real analytics and insight, or just stacks of reports?

How long have they been offering search services? What did the company do in the ancient pre-search marketing world?

Search marketing may be all the rage, but it's still in its infancy, and many of the companies you talk to will have moved into this space rather recently. So ask plenty of questions ... and good luck with your search.

Richard Hagerty is CEO of IMPAQT, an SEM strategy and technology provider. He can be reached at

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